It sounds like the beginning of a joke Bill Cosby might tell: Little guy named Silverman gets inducted into the athletic Hall of Fame at Morgan State . . .
It isn't a joke, though. It's happening tomorrow night, and it's happening because 21 years ago the football coach at Morgan State approached Chip Silverman and said, "I got some players bugging me like crazy to play lacrosse."
The football coach was Earl Banks, and Silverman, who was working in Morgan's graduate school, was the only person he knew who knew anything about lacrosse. It didn't matter that the players were black and Silverman was white and the city was still smoldering from the race riots of the late '60s.
"Can you put a team together?" Banks asked.
Silverman said he would try, and thus began one of the more unusual sporting interludes in these parts: the few years that Morgan State not only played lacrosse, but also played the hell out of it -- with a Diner Guy coaching.
"I'm the one whose name is going into the Hall," Silverman said yesterday, "but it's the teams that are really going in. The specialness that was those teams."
He is 49 now and long out of coaching, having spent 20 years putting together substance-abuse programs for the state and, now, a private company. He grew up with Boogie and Barry and went to Forest Park, and he is the first non-black to make Morgan's Hall, but that's perfect: His teams were the only black teams in the history of college lacrosse.
"None before or since," Silverman said. "And I don't see it in the future. Lacrosse is expensive, and schools are looking to cut costs, not add them. There are black players, but as a black team I think we'll always be unique."
He coached the Bears from 1970-75, as a club team for one year and then a varsity. They played in Division II of the NCAA and were ranked in the top 10 four times, twice reaching the playoffs.
Silverman was the coach, recruiter, equipment manager and ankle-taper, hustled scholarship money, lined the field before games. Most of his players were from the inner city, poor as could be, at Morgan to play football.
"Looking back, I broke a lot of these NCAA rules," Silverman said. "I'd take them to eat when they hadn't eaten in two days. I paid for them to go to the doctor. I wasn't big on forcing them to be places on time. They were lucky to get to school alive."
They started out using old football jerseys and broken sticks, and they were utter anomalies in a sport whose constituency was, and remains, almost totally white. Pre-game speeches were no problem. "I just told them they were the only black team and no one expected them to win," Silverman said.
But they did. They'd learned lacrosse at the city schools in the late '60s, particularly at Edmondson under coach Augie Waibel. "And they were awesome athletes," Silverman said. "This was when Morgan still had a great football team. The talent I had was unbelievable."
Guys like Stan Cherry and Maurice Tyler and John Sykes, who wenton to play pro football. Guys like Joe Fowlkes and Wayne Jackson, who became brilliant lacrosse players.
"One year my defense averaged 6-4 and 250 pounds," Silverman said. "I had NFL scouts at practice every day. I remember Raymond Chester was running around one day and John Madden came over and told me to get him off the field, he was a first-round draft pick."
One time Stan Cherry was disqualified from a game for roughness. "I said to the official: 'Unnecessary roughness? But he hasn't had a penalty,' " Silverman said. "The official said, 'Not unnecessary roughness. Just roughness. Coach, he's too tough for these kids.' "
There was talent everywhere on campus. One day Silverman put basketball star Marvin Webster, all 84 inches, in the crease. Silverman still smiles at the memory. "I'm thinking this is unbelievable, and [basketball coach] Nat Frazier comes running over saying, 'What the hell? That kid's worth a million dollars! Get him out of there!' "
There was no doubt these Morgan players intimidated opponents. "Chip wouldn't let us forget that," said Tony Fulton, who played midfield and is now a delegate in the State House. "He'd say: 'You know those white boys are scared of you. Go out and hit 'em. You know white boys soften up when you hit 'em.' "
They were serious about their lacrosse, though. Silverman ran them hard and taught fundamentals. They took on the best. They won at Washington & Lee in 1975 in one of the game's great upsets. They played the Ivy Leaguers, Hobart, Washington College.
At first they had trouble scheduling games, but soon were accepted. "William & Mary wouldn't play us at first because we were black, but then they did," Silverman said. "People were great. The name-calling got bad maybe 5 percent of the time."
In fact, the players loved going on the road. They stayed up half the night in the dorms, playing basketball and horsing around. "Here was a bunch of poor kids going to these